PNDC for Social Change Organizations

Using This Information Packet: This packet includes (1) an overview of the training; (2) short biographies for Sharon Strand Ellison and her daughter, Ami Atkinson Combs, who are the primary master teachers of the Powerful Non-Defensive Communication™ process developed by Sharon; (3) a partial client list; and (4) comments from people dedicated to social change.

The overview starts with the introduction from the landing page and then continues with more information. You can start with "More . . ." if you've already read the introduction. You can also return to the landing page to access additional information about workshops, training topics, conferences, and coaching.

Training Context & Overview
Biographical Information
Partial Client List
Comments from People Committed to Social Change

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Training Context & Overview

Introduction from Landing Page: While time has often proven the wisdom of the voices of people seeking social change, their efforts have frequently been met with massive resistance and, too often, violence. Using traditional communication methods, we often get discouraged, defensive and in power struggle, which can make us look radical, even immature, rather than wise. Sharon Strand Ellison has developed a paradigm for communication that defuses defensiveness rather than prompting it, building bridges instead of intensifying alienation. With these skills, you don't need other people's cooperation to show strength of character and influence wider circles of people, furthering the momentum toward constructive social evolution—for equality, for environmental conservation, and for peace.

More . . . Social change organizations often prompt resistance from many when they attempt to serve people who struggle to achieve the equality that we believe is their birthright, such as (a) migrant workers who provide essential services that benefit everyone in our country; (b) LGBT youth and adults, who seek to live their lives with dignity and the right to chose who they date and whether to marry or not; and (c) elders who want continued respect for their skills and intelligence as they advance in age.

Social change groups also promote causes that require changing our way of life, such as driving smaller cars, developing clean energy sources and protecting the environment by saving the rain forests or wild salmon.

Often faced with much denial, resistance and anger within the communitities they seek to help, social change activists can easily become discouraged and/or angry. Einstein said, “It’s very depressing to live in a time where it’s easier to break an atom than a prejudice.” Thus, many people working together toward justice and peace can end up believing that power struggle, perhaps even violence, is essential to progress.

Traditional communication methods, built on the "rules of war," systematically create and accelerate conflict. Using these methods when we seek social change is more likely to block our own progress rather than to facilitate it. They result in adversarial relationships instead of achieving the desired goals of compassion and equality for all. In the words of Audrey Lorde, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Einstein also said something similar: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Sharon Strand Ellison demonstrates that “communication” is a core “tool” we must change if we want to increase effectiveness and speed, not only in creating social change, but in modeling the values that are the foundation of such change. In Sharon’s keynotes, public speeches, workshops, and training programs, you will learn Powerful Non-Defensive Communication™, a new paradigm for listening and speaking in ways that can eliminate defensiveness and make way for the kind of dialogue that can bring transformative resolution, even during difficult public discourse. The skills are also invaluable for individuals who seek, even in the face of prejudice, judgment, bigotry, and/or hatred, to maintain self-esteem and demonstrate strength of character. This process also strengthens leadership skills and alters power dynamics so we can enhance the movement toward constructive social evolution, with more ability to touch hearts and move minds.

Biographical Information

Sharon Strand Ellison, M.S., Executive Director of the Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (IPNDC), is an internationally recognized communication consultant, an award-winning speaker and the author of Taking the War Out of Our Words. Sharon with her daughter, Ami Atkinson produced the award-winning audiobook, Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting. Sharon is a pioneer in developing methods for eliminating defensiveness so people can communicate with constructive power. She was a nominee for the Leadership for a Changing World Award, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Advocacy Institute. As The invited Guest Speaker for the 11th annual Kaplan Lecture, Sharon received an honorary award as a communication pioneer.

Sharon also speaks at conferences and provides training programs for professionals in more than a dozen fields. Her clients include Kaiser Permanente; Nordstom, Regional Diversity Managers; Wells Fargo; the United States Department of Justice, Stanford University, The smithsonian, and the Centre for Dispute Resolution, London, England.

Ami Atkinson Combs, Director of IPNDC, is a graduate of Mills College and co-author of the audiobook Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting. As Sharon’s daughter, she has been an active participant in the years of discussion as Sharon envisoned and refined the PNDC Communication model. Ami has done psychosocial research at Stanford Medical School, been on the Newborn and Parent Advisory Board at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, and worked with severely emotionally disturbed children.

Ami’s innate understanding of systemic patterns in communication is alsp a cornerstone of her work with organizations, helping individual teams as well as the organization as a whole to strengthen their communication internally and with their client base. She offers coaching and trainings for educational institutions, nonprofits, corporations, and community organizations. Her clients include: General Dynamics, CA; Lockheed-Martin, CA; Habitat for Humanity, CA; the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, Toronto, Canada; The Wisconsin Council of Churches; The Association for Early Childhood Education, National Conference; and CCG Systems, VA.

Sharon and Ami have long been committed to social change and share the belief held by millions of others as well, that our human survival depends on the skill we develop in creating a social evolution process that honors and protects our resources, as well as our capacity to live peacefully in a diverse global community. Sharon and Ami are dedicated to creating leadership with integrity and building strength of community in every environment.

Partial Client List

  • The Human Capacity for Peace Conference:
    What is the Power of Nonviolent Language and Action, From the Individual to Global Settings
    UC Berkeley, CA
  • Facing a Challenge Within: A Progressive Scholars and Activists Conference on Anti-Semitism and the Left, Oakland, CA
  • Multnomah County/City of Portland, OR, 9th Annual Diversity Conference: "Diversity: Tools, Action and Accountability"
  • The Women’s Global Health Imperative, Global Health Scholar's Program, leadership development for selected women scientists working with women’s health issues in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe
  • The Diversity Pipeline Conference for Women of Color in Health Science
  • International Symposium on conflict resolution, sponsored by the Fetser Institute and the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota, Mineapolis, Minnesota
  • International Symposium on Human Dignity and Humiliation, Columbia University, New York

Along with speaking at conferences and offering public workshops, Sharon and Ami provide training for community-based organizations engaged in working toward equality and peace, such as:

  • The Women’s Funding Network, including Women of Color in International Development
  • New Community Meeting, bringing together GLBT people with conservative Christians
  • District Attorney's Victim Assistance Program, San Francisco Jail, Empowerment Project for Women Prisoners
  • Shelters for Domestic Violence Victims
  • U.C. Berkeley, Staff Diversity FAcilitator Network
  • Multicultural Education Association, Portland OR
  • I Have a Dream Foundation
  • Rape Crisis Centers
  • The Napa Peace Table
  • Diablo Peace Center
  • The Human Rights Coalition
  • United Way
  • Head Start
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Center for Volunteer and Non-Profit Leadership
  • Sharon provided training for 450 freshman at a high school where there had been a gang murder,
  • She co-authored the questions for white people for the workbooks that accompanied the diversity films produced by World Trust, Light in the Darkness, and Making Whiteness Visible.
  • In conjunction with Native American women leaders, Sharon created a national training program for Native American dental assistants, most of whom were supervised by white male dentists. The training focused on differences in culture and imbalances of power.

In addition, Sharon works with people in more than 13 different professions. Her clients also include Hewlett Packard, Nordstrom, Xerox, Sheraton, Stanford University, Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, the U.S. Justice Department, the Smithsonian, and the Centre for Dispute Resolution in London, England. She has been an invited guest speaker at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

Comments from People Committed to Social Change:

For Centuries, Aristotle's model for communication has been taught in Western culture as the art of winning arguments. Powerful, Non-Defensive Communication replaces this traditional model with one that gives each person the ability to communicate effectively without engaging in power struggle.

Dr. Martin Jacobi, Dean, English Department, Clemson University

I think in the aftermath of the 9/ll attack, the need for these skills and the depth of their importance is even more profound.

Gary Wheeler, Associate Executive Director, Miami University Middletown

People learn so much from stories instead of being lectured and Sharon gave such good examples; she showed the real emotions that people feel when misunderstandings happen and how they can fester inside of you, even for years! During her keynote people learned that they can have an avenue to address misunderstandings and conflicts instead of having them eat away at their hearts and souls. Sharon got the audience excited about learning something different, and people don't always get excited about wanting to change! It was so clear that this can be used in every aspect of our lives without feeling threatened. Sharon made us laugh and moved us to tears. The audience wanted more.

—Beverly Bolensky Dean, EEO Investigator, City of Portland, OR, Steering Committee & Speakers Committee, City/Country 9th Annual Diversity Conference: "Diversity: Tools, Accountability, and Action"

Albert Einstein was able to visualize and communicate a more profoundly accurate model of how our physical Reality is structured, as a quantum space-time fabric. I believe Sharon Ellison has done the same with a more profoundly accurate model of how our human Relationships are structured, as a linguistic virtual reality. Changing how we speak changes how we relate.  Her work might transform humanity in the 21st century."

Stephen Weitz, Ph.D., Biochemist

I think Sharon has developed a program that is nothing short of revolutionary. Sharon's model is built on a peace paradigm for communication that stresses respect, clarity and honesty. The surprise is that the peace model is much more powerful and effective than the war model. Energy is spent on developing openness and clarity rather than defending, attacking, and persuading. 

 —Dr. Kostas Bagakis, Philosophy and Peace Studies Faculty, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA and member of the Berkeley Buddhist Sanga for Teachers

Sharon is one of the very few "white" teachers whom I've seen succeed in attracting a significant number of "non-white" learners. Over and over again, I've seen her facilitate sensitive communications about differences in race, religion, class status, etc., and leave people feeling connected instead of alienated, and enlightened instead of embattled.

Emily Zimmerman, Instructor, Korean Studies, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA

Important work is done in community forums across the country, in schools, local government, and grass-roots organizations. The PNDC method works flawlessly. I think almost any group could benefit.

Derick Miller, President, Berkeley PTA Council

I believe [Powerful Non-Defensive Communication] is the most powerful and effective communication technique I have seen. I wonder what would have happened if you had been at Camp David [for the Middle East peace talks].

Maureen A. Tighe, United States Department of Justice

“I first heard Sharon speak almost 10 years ago. I was mesmerized by her and thought she was the most impressive speaker I had ever heard on any topic, including the topic of effective communication.”

—Carla Calabrese, attorney, [introductory remarks for Sharon as the keynote speaker] Statewide Texas Bar Association, Collaborative Law Conference

Sharon's work has had a tremendous impact on the Napa Valley Peace Table's ability to make open and honest community building a successful priority. The session was attended, among others, by our mayor, the district attorney, the superintendent of schools, the president of the community college, as well as some of Napa’s most exciting young student leaders. Sharon’s own communication skill and her powerful training program made it easy for all of us to realize how our words and attitude affect our ability to create "community" rather than chaos. The Napa Valley Peace Table's goal of bringing a multicultural, multigenerational vision to the Valley's future was jump-started at the heart by Sharon's easy to understand non-defensive communication tools.

—Dorothy Lind, President, The Peace Table, Napa, CA

Sharon Ellison is fabulous! She did an incredible job at our annual conference where she presented “The Power of Non-Defensive Communication” to over 300 people at our opening plenary. The response was a standing ovation.  Everyone felt they had been touched and educated. Sharon's work has very broad implications for communication at every level with staff, clients, and volunteers, and can greatly enhance the services we provide. In fact, the potential for professional and personal growth is unlimited. The appeal and application of PNDC is universal and offers a powerful tool for social change. 

We have already integrated Sharon's concepts and material from her book into ANSA's leadership development program and will be inviting her to present as part of our Leadership Development Institute. I highly recommend her and her work and believe she is a rare and exceptional talent.  Sharon is a brilliant speaker, a tremendous motivator and an outstanding educator.

Frank Abdale, Executive Director, Association of Nutrition Services Agencies, an international membership organization focused on nutrition services for the critically ill

With regard to your keynote, in speaking to a large group of about 700 people, you used humor very effectively and engaged the audience immediately. You used yourself as a teaching tool and they could see you as human. I found myself envisioning the people in your stories as you spoke and you linked the scenarios to the teaching points in a way that was moving. The beauty of your approach is that you showed us how to speak with clarity without being defensive or attacking. I have already used the skills you taught us.

Mohammed Abu Zayed, Ph.D., Speakers Committee, Chair, Multnomah County/City of Portland 9th Annual Diversity Conference: "Diversity: Tools, Action and Accountability"

When used with compassion, thoughtfulness, and respect, language becomes a powerful tool for liberation. We need Sharon Ellison's work in our homes, in our offices, and most of all, in our hearts.

Evelyn C. White, editor, The Black Woman's Health Book

Sharon Ellison shows us the hidden messages we send without knowing it, the words that can harm, when we want to create peace.  We live in a world of violence and unwittingly speak a language of war.  We defend when we want to connect.  Sharon Ellison shows us, in practical terms, just what we can do about this.  Sharon Ellison's writing is lucid and practical, her spoken presentations totally engaging.  Conclusion? Don't miss on out this important work! Here is new hope for parents and kids, for coworkers and bosses, for institutions in conflict, even for countries.

— Ruth Richards, M.D., Ph.D., Saybrook Graduate School, San Francisco, and McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School.  Editor of Everyday Creativity and New Views of Human Nature: Psychological, Social, and Spiritual Perspectives (American Psychological Association, 2007), and co-editor, with Mark Runco, of Eminent Creativity, Everyday Creativity, and Health (Ablex/Greenwood, 1998).

After a decade of being on the public speakers circuit showing my films about world peace, it became clear to me that creating peace really does begin with the individual. I wanted to clean up my own act. I was looking for a way to help me communicate with clarity and an open heart. After searching for some time, I had the good fortune to find Sharon and Powerful Non-Defensive Communication. Her book is terrific and so are her workshops. I hope she reaches a critical mass, so we can all improve our lives personally and globally.

Vivienne Verdon-Roe, Academy Award winner, Women for America, for the World

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Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2017 Sharon Strand Ellison

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"It’s very depressing to live in a time where it’s easier to break an atom than a prejudice."

 —Albert Einstein


"We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

 —Albert Einstein


". . . for the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house."

 —Audrey Lorde





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